Somali elders yesterday launched a new bid to free an American held hostage for days on a lifeboat after his pirate captors fired on a US navy vessel and defied attempts to arrest them.
Even as negotiations resumed to free the American captain, pirates maneuvered an Italian vessel toward the Somali coastline after hijacking it with 16 people onboard in a separate incident on Saturday, pirate sources said.
Their defiance of Western naval powers showed the difficulty in dealing with the pirates wreaking havoc on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Negotiations broke down on Saturday after US authorities insisted the pirates be arrested after handing over the American, Captain Richard Phillips, a Somali elder said.
The New York Times reported that the breakdown occurred hours after the pirates fired on a small US navy vessel that tried to approach the lifeboat in the Indian Ocean.
Quoting an unnamed US official, the paper reported that the US boat did not return fire.
“Efforts to end the matter did not succeed [on] Saturday and elders have left the village of Garacad [at] Saturday midnight to resume the negotiations again,” Mohamoud Jama, a Somali elder in Garacad, said by telephone.
“We have been told the pirates need a free passage after they release the captain and the American officials told them they are handing them over to the local authorities in Puntland,” Jama said, referring to the northern Somali breakaway region that is a main hub for piracy.
US navy forces have poured into the region since the attack on Phillips’ Danish-operated container ship, the Maersk Alabama, but the pirates have warned against using force to rescue him. He has been held aboard a lifeboat since the attack on Wednesday. The ship’s unarmed crew managed to regain control of the ship, but the pirates bundled Phillips into the lifeboat as they escaped.
They have demanded a ransom and said on Saturday they planned to move Phillips to another ship held by their “friends.”
The Maersk Alabama docked safely in Mombasa, Kenya, on Saturday and its crew was told to remain aboard while the FBI investigates.
The American crew praised their captain, with one member calling him a “hero” who saved their lives.
Pirates have intensified their attacks over the past week and seized another ship on Saturday, an Italian vessel with 16 people aboard.
The announcement of the capture of the 75m-long Buccaneer was made in an e-mail to the boat’s owners, Micoperi Marine Contractors, spokesman Claudio Bartolotti said from the company’s headquarters in Ravenna, Italy.
He said 10 Italians, five Romanians and a Croat were on board.
A pirate said on condition of anonymity that the Italian boat was being directed toward the Somali coastline yesterday.
“The tugboat is heading toward Las Qorey and there are more than 10 pirates onboard the tugboat,” he said from the pirate lair of Eyl. “There are also three speedboats accompanying it to the area.”
Las Qorey is located on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. A trader who sells fuel to the pirates said a group of his customers hijacked the tugboat and have been asking for fuel.